Michelangelo Paintings


Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564) was perhaps more a sculptor at heart than he was a painter, and thus Vasari quoted him saying, "I cannot live under pressures from patrons, let alone paint."

It seems impossible that the artist responsible for the grand and glorious frescoes on the Sistine Chapel walls and ceiling often declared that he was not a painter. Imagine the wealth of talent an artist must possess to create such vivid and triumphant work. And consider that Michelangelo was working against his own will and under the weight of self-doubt -- only then can one truly begin to appreciate the unparalleled genius of Michelangelo, the painter.

Describing himself as first and foremost a sculptor, Michelangelo often expressed regret that he had not dedicated his life fully to the art of sculpture. He even signed his letters and contracts "Michelangelo, the Sculptor."

The artist's dislike for painting is plainly illustrated in the fact that he found it to be opposed to his chosen art form. Even in his seventies, Michelangelo suggested to Benedetto Varchi, in response to Varchi's study of the relative merits of painting and sculpture, that "painting seems to me more to be held good the more it approaches sculpture, and sculpture to be held bad the more it approaches painting: and therefore I used to think that sculpture was the lantern to painting, and that between the one and the other was that difference which there is between the sun and the moon."

In spite of his dismissive attitude toward painting, Michelangelo proved to be a gifted painter of sacred art. In fact, he surpassed his contemporaries in expressive intensity and skill to become the reluctant visionary of Italian Renaissance painting.

This article explores some of Michelangelo's paintings, his methods and techniques, and the subjects of his art. Follow the links below to learn more.

  • Doni Madonna: This painting shows the sculptural quality to Michelangelo's paintings, the three-dimensional force that they possess. See Doni Madonna by Michelangelo.
  • Libyan Sibyl study: This study for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is one of the finest examples of Michelangelo's sketches for that work. Learn more here.
  • Crucifixion:(c. 1541): This drawing has many features in common with Michelangelo's sculptures, and as such reiterates the artist's comment about painting approaching sculpture. Get the details on Crucifixion on this page.
  • Crucifixion:(1540s-50s): Michelangelo became increasingly introspective in his art as he grew older. Crucifixion, and other works from this period, reflects his inner turmoil.

The first painting in this article is Doni Madonna, which is a Michelangelo tondi, rich in symbolism and visual depth. Go to the next page to learn more about this work. To learn more about Michelangelo, art history, and other famous artists, see:

Doni Madonna by Michelangelo

Doni Madonna by Michelangelo is a tempera on wood and resin (total diameter with frame 47-1/2 inches), which can be seen at Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
Doni Madonna by Michelangelo is a tempera on wood and resin (total diameter with frame 47-1/2 inches), which can be seen at Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Michelangelo's Doni Madonna (c. 1503), created to celebrate Florentine weaver Agnolo Doni's wedding, borrows its composition from Leonardo da Vinci's drawings of Madonna and St. Anne, which Michelangelo must have seen while in Florence working on David. Michelangelo also clearly drew from his work in sculpture, as evident in the foreground figures, which create a startling three-dimensional effect, fairly springing forth from their circular frame. This work is the only preserved panel picture that Michelangelo painted entirely himself.

The symbolism of the picture has been widely debated. What is clear is that the picture was meant to extol the virtues of a Christian marriage through its focus on the holy family. It has also been observed that Mary and Joseph seem to be presenting the child as a "gift" to the world in a way that may allude to the patron's name (doni in Italian means "gifts").

Circular scenes of the Madonna and the infancy of Christ (tondi, meaning "round") were popularized in Florence and symbolized marriage in Renaissance art. While the rich symbolism of this piece has encouraged many interpretations, what is of greater importance is the artist's handling of the figures. In the highly polished surfaces and sculptural quality of the group in the foreground, Michelangelo reveals his passion for translating his sculptural sensibilities into painting. The family group advances toward the viewer with such three-dimensional force that it seems to defy the very flatness of the painted surface.

The next work in this article is Michelangelo's study for this work Libyan Sibyl, which is a detail from his fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

To learn more about Michelangelo, art history, and other famous artists, see:

Libyan Sibyl Study by Michelangelo

Michelangelo's Libyan Sibyl study is a red chalk drawing (11-3/8 x 8-1/2 inches), which belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Michelangelo's Libyan Sibyl study is a red chalk drawing (11-3/8 x 8-1/2 inches), which belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Michelangelo's detail of the Libyan Sibyl is one of the finest on the Sistine ceiling (1508-12). The sibyl is suspended in a dramatically twisted pose, or contrapposto, an effect that the artist repeated with equal brilliance in his 1530 sculpture, Victory.

The Libyan Sibyl, whom Michelangelo gave a regal pose and Hellenic features, was known for her prophecy of the coming of a king born of a virgin.

Libyan Sibyl Study is one of the finest surviving examples of Michelangelo's many drawings for the Sistine ceiling. It demonstrates the artist's careful attention to every detail of the figure. The red chalk drawing, done from a male model, shows a study of the face in the lower left-hand corner, in which the artist transformed the rough male features of his model into the Hellenic ideal of female beauty found in the final painting.

To learn more about Michelangelo, art history, and other famous artists, see:

Crucifixion (c. 1541) by Michelangelo

Michelangelo's Crucifixion (c. 1541) is a black and white chalk drawing (16-3/8 x 11-1/4 inches) that belongs to the British Museum, London.
Michelangelo's Crucifixion (c. 1541) is a black and white chalk drawing (16-3/8 x 11-1/4 inches) that belongs to the British Museum, London.

Michelangelo's Crucifixion (c. 1541) is just one of many haunting and highly personal drawings that the artist completed during his last years. These drawings amount to a form of visual prayer expressing his deeply felt beliefs, feelings he was also expressing at the time in his religious poetry. In this drawing, Michelangelo has endowed Christ with the muscular strength typical of his sculptures, while concentrating a sense of deep anguish in Christ's head, which twists upward as if pleading for humanity's redemption.

Michelangelo did many variations on the passion of Christ, which, toward the end of his life, became increasingly endowed with the artist's own feelings of inner turmoil. See Michelangelo's drawing of Christ redeemer on the next page.

To learn more about Michelangelo, art history, and other famous artists, see:

Crucifixion (c. 1540s-50s) by Michelangelo

Crucifixion (1940s-50s) by Michelangelo is a black and white chalk drawing (16-3/8 x 11-1/4 inches), which is on display at the British Museum.
Crucifixion (1940s-50s) by Michelangelo is a black and white chalk drawing (16-3/8 x 11-1/4 inches), which is on display at the British Museum.

Michelangelo created this version of the passion of Christ, one of several works to be called Crucifixion, sometime between 1540 and the late 1550s.

Subject throughout his lifetime to personal and professional turmoil, Michelangelo became more introspective in his last years. His last works reflect an increasing focus on spiritual matters. The artist seems to have abandoned his vision of Christ the almighty creator and judge in favor of Christ the ever-merciful redeemer. Michelangelo seemingly used this Crucifixion to explore in the figures of the Virgin and St. John the Evangelist his own anguish and sorrow.

To learn more about Michelangelo, art history, and other famous artists, see:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Lauren Mitchell Ruehring is a freelance writer who has contributed promotional commentary for the works of many artists, including Erté and Thomas McKnight. She has also contributed to publications such as Kerry Hallam: Artistic Visions and Liudmila Kondakova: World of Enchantment. In addition, she has received recognition from the National Society of Arts and Letters.